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Western societies are very focused on youth. Injunctions to not grow old are legion. In reality, old people are pushed aside since they can no longer "produce." This is, at least, the neo-liberal vision that is strongly present in France, Canada, the United States, etc. Why waste energies on individuals for whom the death knell will sound in the more or less near future?
Or, aging today is not like it was a century or two ago. We have never aged better with medical and technological advances. It would be a shameless generalization to believe that all older people are very ill physically or cognitively. Yet, with or without ailments, they are all pushed aside and isolated. What if the school was a bridge between youth and old age?
Students serving the elderly...
Knowing that a significant portion of seniors find themselves in solitude the majority of the time, some schools have already realized that young people could bring a little presence through various projects. Especially in the context of covid-19 where this at-risk population has experienced even more isolation. For example, this Quebec high school decided to beautify the courtyard of a residence for the elderly with flowers in addition to providing surprises for people for Easter.
Students from all walks of life can brighten up and help the elderly, including those with disabilities. The Institute for the Deaf and Blind in the Belgian commune of Uccle has set up a project where learners massage the hands of the elderly. An activity that allows students to tame an unknown world, that of old age, and to offer well-being to seniors. Programs like this are multiplying in order to offer comfort to the elderly.
Some initiatives go even further in practice. Everything is becoming more and more digital, yet the technological advances of the last 15 or 20 years have been so spectacular that many old people have not been able to keep up with the parade. So they find themselves in a world they don't know much about, with tools that could bring them out of their isolation as long as they know how to use them.
Recent generations who have experienced this digitization are generally more comfortable. Hence the idea of proposing that students introduce seniors to current digital services. The LEAP (Lycée d'Enseignement Agricole Privé) of Nermont had already prepared such an exercise in 2017. 5 years later, the project continues so that more individuals can benefit. In North America, the Cyber Seniors program connects student volunteers with Canadian and American seniors who need (and want) to learn how to use new technologies.
... and vice versa
We would be wrong to think that only seniors can learn from the younger ones. By bringing generations together, lessons are shared. For example, this university German class had paired students with senior citizens in Germany. The idea being, yes, to get the latter out of the loneliness associated with the pandemic but also that the exchanges would allow for a better command of the Germanic language.
Because we forget how much the baggage of old people's experiences can shed light on different existences, on the evolution of the world and technologies, etc. In this vein, this French-language school in Calgary connects young people with seniors who share their stories. The teacher sets the stage a bit by offering a brief portrait of the speaker. The learners then develop questions about the person's reality and where they live. Afterwards, the interview, usually by video conference, lasts about an hour where everyone can ask questions.
Seniors can also be mentors and study supports. The Canton of Fribourg, Switzerland, understood this by offering volunteers to help students a few periods each week at a local elementary school.
In Belgium, the association "Âges & Transmissions" organizes various projects between seniors and youth. Whether it's in helping newcomers to French or workshops to tell their school life stories, the idea is to pass on knowledge and strengthen the social fabric between generations and cultures.
Illustration: ambermb on Pixabay
Ages And Transmissions. Accessed April 7, 2022. https://agesettransmissions.be/.
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"Volunteering With Cyber-Seniors." Cyber-Seniors Inc. last updated April 1, 2022. https://cyberseniors.org/fr/faire-du-benevolat-avec-cyber-seniors/.
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St-André, Rosie. "Students Put Sunshine In The Lives Of Elders At La Maison La Cathédrale." Le Nouvelliste. Last updated May 14, 2021. https://www.lenouvelliste.ca/2021/05/14/des-eleves-mettent-du-soleil-dans-la-vie-des-aines-de-la-maison-la-cathedrale-839f2c29b07c2b61bf49fa247a5c59e2.
Tardieu, Axel. "Une école Organise Des Rencontres Virtuelles Entre élèves Et Aînés De Tous Horizons." Radio-Canada.ca. Last updated May 6, 2021. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1790919/ecole-francophone-rencontres-virtuelles-eleves-aines.
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